on the Roof (40th Anniverary)
Hollywood has mostly forgotten how to make a good musical. It’s rare that
people even try anymore – and when they do it is with very inconsistent
success. For every outright smash like Chicago, or to a lesser
extent the fairly good Dreamgirls and Sweeney Todd, there are
odd missteps like Phantom of the Opera, Moulin Rouge and even High
School Musical. Then there are outright failures like Rent and
Nine. However, for all intents and purposes, for the past couple of
decades – at least – good musicals have been pretty much the province of
animated films, and now, arguably, Glee on television.
upon a time, though, the Hollywood musical was an amazingly diverse genre.
In the 50s and 60s there were brilliant musicals about gang warfare (West
Side Story), thievery and kidnapping in Olde London (Oliver!),
Nazi oppression in the Alps (The Sound of Music), misbehaving
children (Mary Poppins), class condescension (My Fair Lady)
and even animal hoarding (Dr. Doolittle).
Fiddler on the Roof
came right at the tail
end of the golden age of Hollywood musicals. Like most of those films, the
storyline does not seem to immediately loan itself to breaking into song: a
milkman in pre-revolutionary Russia dealing with poverty, changing social
mores, headstrong daughters and religious persecution under the Tsar. I
can’t imagine that there are many other musicals that include a pogrom in
yet, as this new 40th Anniversary reissue reminds us, Fiddler on the Roof
is a stunning entertainment – heartbreaking, surprisingly funny,
occasionally scary and dazzlingly lovestruck. Also, for a film that runs
three hours, it moves nimbly and almost never lags.
Fiddler on the Roof
is based on an old Sholem
Aleichem story called “Tevye and His Daughters.” The milkman Tevye (played
by Topol) has an ongoing (and often hilarious) dialogue with God as he goes
through his daily life with his long-time arranged-marriage wife Golde
(Norma Crane) and five daughters. Life starts changing when news is coming
about the Tsar expelling Jews from nearby towns. In the meantime, his three
oldest daughters are all taking the radical stance that marriage should be
based on love, not an agreement amongst parents. And each one finds a man
who strays further and further from Tevye’s traditional Jewish upbringing.
there is the music. Today, if a musical gets one song to capture the
imagination of the public, that is quite an accomplishment. Fiddler on
the Roof is nearly wall-to-wall classics: “If I Were A Rich Man,”
“Sunrise Sunset,” “Matchmaker,” “To Life (L’Chaim),” “Miracle of Miracles,”
“Tradition,” “Do You Love Me?” and the title song. Surprisingly, some of
the lesser known songs are even better – such as the surreally scary
“Tevye’s Dream” and one of the most heartbreaking ballads ever, “Far From
the Home I Love.”
forty years on, Fiddler on the Roof is a nearly perfect film and a
necessary addition to any good film collection.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: April 5, 2011.